I have already raved about this book in my previous posts. Crowdsourcing, by Jeff Howe is a book that came out of a wired magazine article (just like Long Tail) and a blog by the author. I picked up this book almost on an impulse on my return trip from KDD conference in Vegas last month.
At first, I thought it would be a lot of the same -- examples seen over and over again..Well, this book was far from that! The book is just fabulous and I really enjoyed reading every page. Jeff Howe does a great job presenting crowdsourcing in three parts: "how we got here", "where we are" and "where we are going".
In essence, crowdsourcing is about the idea that "diversity trumps ability". Bring enough people together to take a crack at a really difficult problem and the diverse backgrounds and knowledge that the crowd brings to the table will inevitably outsmart the smartest people who, in some cases, may have been working on the problem for a long time. The author gives several examples from InnoCentive, where research problems are posed for the crowd to predictive markets (like IEM for politics and Marketocracy for stocks) which are much more effective than election polls and fund managers. To understand how some of these work you really should grab a copy of the book.
Crowdsourcing is also about how we are now both producers and consumers of information. Prosuming news and media is part of our online activity and be it editing wikipedia, commenting on a blog, uploading or rating a video we are all participating in it (sometimes in surprising ways -- without even noticing that we are!). The book is full of several interesting examples from Threadless.com a crowdsourced tshirt design site to how a punk rock band that marketed itself on myspace. Counterintuitive the way large Newspapers have been thinking, those news sites that have adapted to this new trend have actually benefited and increased online readership. Crowdsourcing makes a big leap in how a billion people connect and someday might even help solve difficult, big problems like cancer and Lou gehrig's disease.
This book is really about how crowdsourcing is changing human communication, content production, the way we share ideas thoughts and solve problems and ultimately our culture. Finally, as Jeff puts it... the spin on Robert Putnam's classic work is that we are no longer bowling alone, we are now just bowling online.